Monday, May 10, 2021

Amid US Bench's Communion Clash, The "Holy Office" Flashes A Red Light

As some US bishops advocate levying de facto sanctions on President Biden and other Catholic politicians for their support of legal abortion, the Holy See's distinct, but veiled skepticism over a Communion clash has taken a marked leap in volume, with the church's lead doctrinal official warning that the push would be "misleading if [it] were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics."

Dated Friday, 7 May, the message came in a letter from the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Spanish Cardinal Luis Ladaria SJ, to the USCCB President, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. Whispers has obtained the three-page missive, which was shared with the body of bishops over the weekend at Ladaria's behest. (As this piece goes to press, the text was similarly leaked to the Jesuit-run America magazine and Catholic News Service, the USCCB-owned wire.)

With the bench slated to vote next month on empowering its own Doctrine Committee to craft national guidelines on "Eucharistic coherence" on the part of public officials – and a few of its top conservatives urging an officeholder's support for abortion to disqualify them from receiving Communion – in his letter, the CDF chief expresses several stark reservations, leading with one apparently made by Rome during the 2019-20 ad limina visit: namely, that a "national policy" would "only" be useful "if this would help the bishops maintain unity." 

By contrast, Ladaria writes, "given its contentious nature," the proposal "could have the opposite effect and become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States." What's more, echoing recent informal comments from allies of Pope Francis on both sides of the Atlantic, the cardinal stipulated as a "prerequisite" that any attempted norms – which, he said, should not be pursued unless and until the public officials in question have been "engage[d]" in dialogue – "would respect the rights of individual ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See," the latter aspect a geopolitical necessity given the bilateral relations between the church's central administration and the United States government, to which the episcopal conference is not a party.

"Furthermore," the cardinal said, "the Congregation advises that any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leadership be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholics, reflecting their obligation to confirm their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they conform their lives to receive the sacrament."

In a parting tweak, the prefect urged the conference to make "every effort... to dialogue with other episcopal conferences" in order that any American plan "preserve unity in the universal church." Given appeals to universal practice by Stateside conservatives amid a defiant push by German progressives to undermine the CDF's recent Note banning liturgical blessings of same-sex couples, the same principle's employment on this issue is extraordinarily pointed.

As with last November's plenary – where Biden's Catholicism was first broached in the election's wake – next month's meeting will be virtual. Should the bishops charge the Doctrine Committee by majority vote to prepare draft guidelines, such a text would ostensibly be presented at the November meeting in Baltimore, which is expected to be the body's first in-person gathering since late 2019. 

As a doctrinal statement, the finished draft would need a two-thirds margin for passage, then require the subsequent recognitio of the Holy See for it to be binding in the US church. Notably here, as CDF would be the very organ tasked with granting Rome’s consent to the text, Ladaria’s letter effectively constitutes the roadmap of conditions any finished document would need to satisfy to secure his office’s approval. 

In any case, in the two dioceses where Biden spends most of his weekends, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has consistently rejected any push to bar the second Catholic President from the Eucharist, and with the Democrat's home-church of Wilmington now in transition upon Bishop Fran Malooly's retirement, the Pope's Wilmington pick, now Bishop-elect Bill Koenig, said on his 30 April appointment that he looked forward to "a conversation" with Delaware's most prominent church-goer after his ordination in mid-July. 

Yet echoing today's letter a week ahead of time, Koenig added that, "as a bishop, I'm called to teach the beauty and the fullness of the Catholic faith."

–30–

Thursday, December 24, 2020

"A Child Can Teach Us How To Love" – Despite COVID and Curfews, Christus Natus Est

Before anything else, especially amid all the sorrows, fears, loss and disorientation of a brutal year across the globe, Buon Natale a tutti – to one and all, a Blessed Christmas... may all its light, hope and richness fill each of us in ways we've never known.

Always the world's most-watched religious event, the Pope's Mass on this Holy Night takes place under circumstances without modern precedent. 

A far cry from the usual overflow crowd spilling into St Peter's Square, this Eve's liturgy begins at the record early hour of 7.30pm Rome time (1.30pm US Eastern) in deference to Italy's monthlong 10pm curfew, the nation's latest drastic effort to curtail the virus' second major wave there. 

As for the setting itself, yet again – keeping the practice begun with Holy Week's curtailed observance in the first round of lockdowns – the Altar of the Confession (the central axis of the Vatican Basilica) is being replaced by the far smaller Altar of the Chair in the apse, with the attendance capped at roughly 100.

Here, the livefeed on-demand video (with English translation)...

...and the fulltext of the Pope's homily – a reiteration of Francis' call for Christians to live "the way of tenderness" amid the many human tolls of the pandemic, all the more as we mark the Savior's birth: 

Tonight, the great prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Is 9:6).

To us a son is given. We often hear it said that the greatest joy in life is the birth of a child.  It is something extraordinary and it changes everything. It brings an excitement that makes us think nothing of weariness, discomfort, and sleepless nights, for it fills us with indescribable and incomparable happiness. That is what Christmas is: the birth of Jesus is the “newness” that enables us to be reborn each year and to find, in him, the strength needed to face every trial. Why? Because his birth is for us – for me, for you, for everyone. “For” is a word that appears again and again on this holy night: “For us a child is born”, Isaiah prophesied. “For us is born this day a Saviour”, we repeated in the Psalm. Jesus “gave himself for us” (Tit 2:14), Saint Paul tells us, and in the Gospel, the angel proclaims: “For to you is born this day a Saviour” (Lk 2:11).

Yet what do those words – for us – really mean? They mean that the Son of God, the one who is holy by nature, came to make us, as God’s children, holy by grace. Yes, God came into the world as a child to make us children of God. What a magnificent gift! This day, God amazes us and says to each of us: “You are amazing”. Dear sister, dear brother, never be discouraged. Are you tempted to feel you were a mistake? God tells you, “No, you are my child!” Do you have a feeling of failure or inadequacy, the fear that you will never emerge from the dark tunnel of trial? God says to you, “Have courage, I am with you”. He does this not in words, but by making himself a child with you and for you. In this way, he reminds you that the starting point of all rebirth is the recognition that we are children of God. This is the undying heart of our hope, the incandescent core that gives warmth and meaning to our life. Underlying all our strengths and weaknesses, stronger than all our past hurts and failures, or our fears and concerns about the future, there is this great truth: we are beloved sons and daughters. God’s love for us does not, and never will, depend upon us. It is completely free love, pure grace. Tonight, Saint Paul tells us, “the grace of God has appeared” (Tit 2:11). Nothing is more precious than this.

To us a son is given. The Father did not give us a thing, an object; he gave his own only- begotten Son, who is all his joy. Yet if we look at our ingratitude towards God and our injustice towards so many of our brothers and sisters, a doubt can arise. Was the Lord right in giving us so much? Is he right still to trust us? Does he not overestimate us? Of course, he overestimates us, and he does this because he is madly in love with us. He cannot help but love us. That is the way he is, so different from ourselves. God always loves us with a greater love than we have for ourselves. This is his secret for entering our hearts. God knows that we become better only by accepting his unfailing love, an unchanging love that changes us. Only the love of Jesus can transform our life, heal our deepest hurts, and set us free from the vicious circles of disappointment, anger, and constant complaint.

To us a son is given. In the lowly manger of a darkened stable, the Son of God is truly present. But this raises yet another question. Why was he born at night, without decent accommodation, in poverty and rejection, when he deserved to be born as the greatest of kings in the finest of palaces? Why? To make us understand the immensity of his love for our human condition: even to touching the depths of our poverty with his concrete love. The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God. He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love. And to discover something important. As he did in Bethlehem, so too with us, God loves to work wonders through our poverty. He placed the whole of our salvation in the manger of a stable. He is unafraid of our poverty, so let us allow his mercy to transform it completely!

This is what it means to say that a son is born for us. Yet we hear that word “for” in another place, too. The angel proclaims to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: a baby lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). That sign, the Child in the manger, is also a sign for us, to guide us through life. In Bethlehem, a name that means “House of Bread”, God lies in a manger, as if to remind us that, in order to live, we need him, like the bread we eat. We need to be filled with his free, unfailing, and concrete love. How often instead, in our hunger for entertainment, success, and worldly pleasures, do we nourish life with food that does not satisfy and leaves us empty within! The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, complained that, while the ox and the donkey know their master’s crib, we, his people, do not know him, the source of our life (cf. Is 1:2-3). It is true: in our endless desire for possessions, we run after any number of mangers filled with ephemeral things and forget the manger of Bethlehem. That manger, poor in everything yet rich in love, teaches that true nourishment in life comes from letting ourselves be loved by God and loving others in turn. Jesus gives us the example. He, the Word of God, becomes an infant; he does not say a word but offers life. We, on the other hand, are full of words, but often have so little to say about goodness.

To us a son is given. Parents of little children know how much love and patience they require. We have to feed them, look after them, bathe them, and care for their vulnerability and their needs, which are often difficult to understand. A child makes us feel loved but can also teach us how to love. God was born a child in order to encourage us to care for others. His quiet tears make us realize the uselessness of our many impatient outbursts. His disarming love reminds us that our time is not to be spent in feeling sorry for ourselves, but in comforting the tears of the suffering. God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for him. From this night onward, as a poet wrote, “God’s residence is next to mine, his furniture is love” (EMILY DICKINSON, Poems, XVII).

To us a son is given. Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be. In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Saviour, teach me to serve. You who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for, from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.

–30–

Monday, December 21, 2020

"The Poor Are The Center of The Gospel" – At Vatican "Festivus," The Church's Choice: "The Docility of the Shepherds, or the Defensiveness of Herod"

Fifteen years (less a day) since Benedict XVI revolutionized the Roman Pontiff's Christmas "greeting" to the leaders of his Curia – transforming the holiday pleasantry into a Pope's ultimate programmatic address of the calendar – for everything that's changed since, the distinction remains.

Even so, of course, 2020 has been no ordinary year: not merely in terms of a pandemic that's only bolstered Francis' standing as the premier spiritual leader of a world under lockdown (one left all the more to watch him over a livefeed), but likewise in a tenuous feeling on the homefront, whether in the loss of the crowds and travel that define the nature of a Church gathered around Peter, or the ongoing throes of a Curial reform which doesn't seek mere structural tweaks, but the spiritual conversion of its players – the latter marked in epochal form by September's "decapitation" of a cardinal, the first such move in the modern era for reasons apart from sexual abuse.

Where B16 made the Christmas speech a premier moment of the governing munus of the Universal Pastor, his successor has brought his own unique facet to the exercise. 

Indeed, as any "Seinfeld" fan has easily recognized over the last eight years, under Papa Bergoglio, the Yuletide address has become the Vatican equivalent of "Festivus," as Francis has routinely deployed this singular event as his foremost "airing of grievances" at his top officials – in the sight of the world, no less – its extraordinary sweep over time making for several striking instances of "feats of strength."

If only a pole were brought in for the occasion, the tableau would be complete. While that was again absent from today's edition and the talk still featured the traditional litany of the Curia's troubles, this time around saw a decided shift to the latter element of the sitcom observance, making for a lengthy reflection on how the Church can survive – and surmount – a moment of "crisis," referencing the state of the fold and the wider world alike.

All that said, however, this year's "greeting" was arguably overshadowed within minutes of its delivery by a midday Note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which affirmed (with emphasis) that "it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process." 

A salient point as cell-lines from decades-old abortions have figured significantly in the first several COVID vaccines to attain regulatory approval worldwide – which has yielded significant protests (and calls to resist the shot) among the anti-abortion lobby – the CDF statement's publication was ordered by Francis and issued under his enhanced authority over and above that of the "Holy Office."

Back to the Main Event, moved from its traditional venue in the Sala Clementina in the Apostolic Palace (the site of a dead Pope's wake) to the simpler, larger Hall of Blessings over the frontage of St Peter's to better enable social distancing, here below is the full English translation of this morning's address, which featured no shortage of evocative lines sure to outlast the current shape of things. 

*   *   *

Dear brothers and sisters,

1. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is the mystery of a birth which reminds us that “men, though they must die, are not born in order to die, but in order to begin”,[1] as the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt observed in a way as striking as it is incisive. Arendt inverted the thought of her teacher Heidegger, according to whom human beings are born to be hurled towards death. Amid the ruins of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, Arendt acknowledged this luminous truth: “The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, ‘natural’ ruin is ultimately the fact of natality... It is this faith in and hope for the world that found perhaps its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their ‘glad tidings’: ‘A child has been born unto us’”.[2]

2. Contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, before the child lying in a manger (cf. Lk 2:16), but also the Paschal Mystery, in the presence of the crucified one, we find our proper place only if we are defenceless, humble and unassuming. Only if we follow, wherever we live and work (including the Roman Curia), the programme of life set forth by Saint Paul: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:31-32). Only if we are “clothed with humility” (cf. 1 Pet 5:5) and imitate Jesus, who is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). Only after we put ourselves “in the lowest place” (Lk 14:10) and become “slaves of all” (cf. Mk 10:44). In this regard, Saint Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, even asks us to imagine ourselves as part of the scene before the manger. “I will become”, he writes, “a poor, lowly and unworthy slave, and as though present, gaze upon them, contemplate them and serve them in their needs” (114, 2).

I thank the Cardinal Dean for his Christmas greetings on behalf of all. Thank you, Cardinal Re.

3. This is the Christmas of the pandemic, of the health, economic, social and even ecclesial crisis that has indiscriminately struck the whole world. The crisis is no longer a commonplace of conversations and of the intellectual establishment; it has become a reality experienced by everyone.

The pandemic has been a time of trial and testing, but also a significant opportunity for conversion and renewed authenticity.

On 27 March last, on the esplanade of Saint Peter’s Basilica, before an empty Square that nonetheless brought us together, in spirit, from every corner of the world, I wished to pray for, and with, everyone. I spoke clearly about the potential significance of the “storm” (cf. Mk 4:35-41) that struck our world: “The storm has exposed our vulnerability and uncovered those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It has shown us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest has laid bare all our prepackaged ideas and our forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts to anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We have lost the antibodies we needed to confront adversity. In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, which we cannot evade: our belonging to one another as brothers and sisters”.

4. Providentially, it was precisely at that difficult time that I was able to write Fratelli Tutti, the Encyclical devoted to the theme of fraternity and social friendship. One lesson we learn from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth is that of the solidarity linking those who were present: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi and all who, in one way or another, offered their fraternity and friendship so that, amid the darkness of history, the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14) could find a welcome. As I stated at the beginning of the Encylical: “It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Brotherhood between all men and women. ‘Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation... We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together... By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together’.[3] Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (No. 8).

5. The crisis of the pandemic is a fitting time to reflect briefly on the meaning of a crisis, which can prove beneficial to us all.

A crisis is something that affects everyone and everything. Crises are present everywhere and in every age of history, involving ideologies, politics, the economy, technology, ecology and religion. A crisis is a necessary moment in the history of individuals and society. It appears as an extraordinary event that always creates a sense of trepidation, anxiety, upset and uncertainty in the face of decisions to be made. We see this in the etymological root of the verb krino: a crisis is the sifting that separates the wheat from the chaff after the harvest.

The Bible itself is filled with individuals who were “sifted”, “people in crisis” who by that very crisis played their part in the history of salvation.

The crisis of Abraham, who left his native land (Gen 21:1-2) and underwent the great test of having to sacrifice to God his only son (Gen 22:1-19), resulted, from a theological standpoint, in the birth of a new people. Yet this did not spare Abraham from experiencing a dramatic situation in which confusion and disorientation did not get the upper hand, due to the strength of his faith.

The crisis of Moses can be seen in his lack of self-confidence. “Who am I”, he says, “that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11); “I am not eloquent... I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Ex 4:10), “a man of uncircumcised lips” (Ex 6:12.30). For this reason, he tried to evade the mission entrusted to him by God: “Lord, please send someone else” (cf. Ex 4:13). Yet out of this crisis God was to make Moses the servant who would lead his people out of Egypt.

Elijah, the prophet whose strength was like that of fire (cf. Sir 48:1), at a moment of great crisis longed for death, but then experienced the presence of God, not in a rushing wind or an earthquake or fire, but in a “still small voice” (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-12). The voice of God is never the tumultuous voice of the crisis, but rather the quiet voice that speaks in the crisis.

John the Baptist was gripped by uncertainty about whether Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Mt 11.2-6) because he did not come as the harsh vindicator that John was perhaps expecting (cf. Mt 3:11- 12). Yet John’s imprisonment set the stage for Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:14).

Then there is the “theological” crisis experienced by Paul of Tarsus. Overwhelmed by his dramatic encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-19; Gal 1:15-16), he was moved to leave everything behind to follow Jesus (cf. Phil 3:4-10). Saint Paul was truly one open to being changed by a crisis. For this reason, he was to be the author of the crisis that led the Church to pass beyond the borders of Israel and go forth to the very ends of the earth.

We could continue with this list of biblical figures, in which each of us could find his or her own place. There are so many of them...

Yet the most eloquent crisis was that of Jesus. The Synoptic Gospels point out that he began his public life by experiencing the crisis of temptation. It might seem that the central character in this situation was the devil with his false promises, yet the real protagonist was the Holy Spirit. For he was guiding Jesus at this decisive moment in his life: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1).

The Evangelists stress that the forty days Jesus spent in the desert were marked by the experience of hunger and weakness (cf. Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2). It was precisely from the depths of this hunger and weakness that the evil one sought to make his final move, taking advantage of Jesus’ human fatigue. Yet in that man weak from fasting the tempter experienced the presence of the Son of God who could overcome temptation by the word of God, and not his own. Jesus never enters into dialogue with the devil. We need to learn from this. There can be no dialogue with the devil. Jesus either casts him out or forces him to reveal his name. With the devil, there can be no dialogue.

Jesus was then to face an indescribable crisis in Gethsemane: solitude, fear, anguish, the betrayal of Judas and abandonment by his Apostles (cf. Mt 26:36-50). Finally, there was the extreme crisis on the cross: an experience of solidarity with sinners even to the point of feeling abandoned by the Father (cf. Mt 27:46). Yet with utter confidence he “commended his spirit into the hands of the Father” (cf. Lk 23:46). His complete and trusting surrender opened the way to the resurrection (cf. Heb 5:7).

6. Brothers and sisters, this reflection on crisis warns us against judging the Church hastily on the basis of the crises caused by scandals past and present. The prophet Elijah can serve as an example. Giving vent to his frustrations before the Lord, Elijah presented him with a tale of hopelessness: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they are seeking my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14). Often our own assessments of ecclesial life also sound like tales of hopelessness. Yet a hopeless reading of reality cannot be termed realistic. Hope gives to our assessments an aspect that in our myopia we are often incapable of seeing. God replied to Elijah by telling him that reality was other than what he thought: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus... Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:15.18). It was not true that Elijah was alone; he was in crisis.

God continues to make the seeds of his kingdom grow in our midst. Here in the Curia, there are many people bearing quiet witness by their work, humble and discreet, free of idle chatter, unassuming, faithful, honest and professional. So many of you are like that, and I thank you. Our times have their own problems, yet they also have a living witness to the fact that the Lord has not abandoned his people. The only difference is that problems immediately end up in the newspapers; this has always been the case, whereas signs of hope only make the news much later, if at all.

Those who fail to view a crisis in the light of the Gospel simply perform an autopsy on a cadaver. They see the crisis, but not the hope and the light brought by the Gospel. We are troubled by crises not simply because we have forgotten how to see them as the Gospel tells us to, but because we have forgotten that the Gospel is the first to put us in crisis.[4] If we can recover the courage and humility to admit that a time of crisis is a time of the Spirit, whenever we are faced with the experience of darkness, weakness, vulnerability, contradiction and loss, we will no longer feel overwhelmed. Instead, we will keep trusting that things are about to take a new shape, emerging exclusively from the experience of a grace hidden in the darkness. “For gold is tested in the fire and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation” (Sir 2:5).

7. Finally, I would urge you not to confuse crisis with conflict. They are two different things. Crisis generally has a positive outcome, whereas conflict always creates discord and competition, an apparently irreconcilable antagonism that separates others into friends to love and enemies to fight. In such a situation, only one side can win.

Conflict always tries to find “guilty” parties to scorn and stigmatize, and “righteous” parties to defend, as a means of inducing an (often magical) sense that certain situations have nothing to do with us. This loss of the sense of our common belonging helps to create or consolidate certain elitist attitudes and “cliques” that promote narrow and partial mind-sets that weaken the universality of our mission. “In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 226).

When the Church is viewed in terms of conflict – right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist – she becomes fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying her true nature. She is, on the other hand, a body in continual crisis, precisely because she is alive. She must never become a body in conflict, with winners and losers, for in this way she would spread apprehension, become more rigid and less synodal, and impose a uniformity far removed from the richness and plurality that the Spirit has bestowed on his Church.

The newness born of crisis and willed by the Spirit is never a newness opposed to the old, but one that springs from the old and makes it continually fruitful. Jesus explains this process in a simple and clear image: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The dying of a seed is ambivalent: it is both an end and the beginning of something new. It can be called both “death and decay” and “birth and blossoming”, for the two are one. We see an end, while at the same time, in that end a new beginning is taking shape.

In this sense, our unwillingness to enter into crisis and to let ourselves be led by the Spirit at times of trial condemns us to remaining forlorn and fruitless, or even in conflict. By shielding ourselves from crisis, we hinder the work of God’s grace, which would manifest itself in us and through us. If a certain realism leads us to see our recent history only as a series of mishaps, scandals and failings, sins and contradictions, short-circuits and setbacks in our witness, we should not fear. Nor should we deny everything in ourselves and in our communities that is evidently tainted by death and calls for conversion. Everything evil, wrong, weak and unhealthy that comes to light serves as a forceful reminder of our need to die to a way of living, thinking and acting that does not reflect the Gospel. Only by dying to a certain mentality will we be able to make room for the newness that the Spirit constantly awakens in the heart of the Church. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this, and they called it “metanoia”.

8. Every crisis contains a rightful demand for renewal and a step forward. If we really desire renewal, though, we must have the courage to be completely open. We need to stop seeing the reform of the Church as putting a patch on an old garment, or simply drafting a new Apostolic Constitution. The reform of the Church is something different.

It cannot be a matter of putting a patch here or there, for the Church is not just an item of Christ’s clothing, but rather his Body, which embraces the whole of history (cf. 1 Cor 12:27). We are not called to change or reform the Body of Christ – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8) – but we are called to clothe that Body with a new garment, so that it is clear that the grace we possess does not come from ourselves but from God. Indeed, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). The Church is always an earthen vessel, precious for what it contains and not for how it looks. Later, I will have the pleasure of giving you a book, a gift of Father Ardura, which shows the life of one earthen vessel that radiated the greatness of God and the reforms of the Church. These days it seems evident that the clay of which we are made is chipped, damaged and cracked. We have to strive all the more, lest our frailty become an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel rather than a testimony to the immense love with which God, who is rich in mercy, has loved us and continues to love us (cf. Eph 2:4). If we cut God, who is rich in mercy, out of our lives, our lives would be a lie, a falsehood.

In times of crisis, Jesus warns us against certain attempts to emerge from it that are doomed from the start. If someone “tears a piece from a new garment to put it upon an old garment” the result is predictable: he will tear the new, because “the piece from the new will not match the old”. Similarly, “no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. New wine must be put into new wineskins” (Lk 5:36-38).

The right approach, on the other hand, is that of the “scribe, who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven”, who “is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52). That treasure is Tradition, which, as Benedict XVI recalled, “is the living river that links us to the origins, the living river in which the origins are ever present, the great river that leads us to the gates of eternity” (Catechesis, 26 April 2006). I think of the saying of that great German musician: “Tradition is the guarantee of the future, not a museum, an urn of ashes”. The “old” is the truth and grace we already possess. The “new” are those different aspects of the truth that we gradually come to understand. No historical form of living the Gospel can exhaust its full comprehension. There are those words from the fifth century: “Ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate”: that is what tradition is, and how it grows. If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, we will daily draw closer to “all the truth” (Jn 16:13). Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, we can even start to imagine a “synodal” Church that, rather than being inspired by communion with the presence of the Spirit, ends up being seen as just another democratic assembly made up of majorities and minorities. Like a parliament, for example: and this is not synodality. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit makes the difference.

9. What should we do during a crisis? First, accept it as a time of grace granted us to discern God’s will for each of us and for the whole Church. We need to enter into the apparent paradoxical notion that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). We should keep in mind the reassuring words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

It is essential not to interrupt our dialogue with God, however difficult this may prove. Praying is not easy. We must not tire of praying constantly (cf. Lk 21:36; 1 Thess 5:17). We know of no other solution to the problems we are experiencing than that of praying more fervently and at the same time doing everything in our power with greater confidence. Prayer will allow us to “hope against all hope” (cf. Rom 4:18).

10. Dear brothers and sisters, let us maintain great peace and serenity, in the full awareness that all of us, beginning with myself, are only “unworthy servants” (Lk 17:10) to whom the Lord has shown mercy. For this reason, it would be good for us to stop living in conflict and feel once more that we are journeying together, open to crisis. Journeys always involve verbs of movement. A crisis is itself movement, a part of our journey. Conflict, on the other hand, is a false trail leading us astray, aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil. The first evil that conflict leads us to, and which we must try to avoid, is gossip. Let us be attentive to this! Talking about gossip is not an obsession of mine; it is the denunciation of an evil that enters the Curia. Here in the Palace, there are many doors and windows, and it enters and we get used to this. Gossip traps us in an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption. It turns crisis into conflict. The Gospel tells us that the shepherds believed the angel’s message and set out on the path towards Jesus (cf. Lk 2:15-16). Herod, on the other hand, closed his heart before the story told by the Magi and turned that closed-heartedness to deceit and violence (cf. Mt 2:1- 16).

Each of us, whatever our place in the Church, should ask whether we want to follow Jesus with the docility of the shepherds or with the defensiveness of Herod, to follow him amid crisis or to keep him at bay in conflict.

Allow me to ask expressly of all of you, who join me in the service of the Gospel, for the Christmas gift of your generous and whole-hearted cooperation in proclaiming the Good News above all to the poor (cf. Mt 11:5). Let us remember that they alone truly know God who welcome the poor, who come from below in their misery, yet as such are sent from on high. We cannot see God’s face, but we can experience it in his turning towards us whenever we show respect for our neighbour, for others who cry out to us in their need. For the poor, who are the centre of the Gospel. I think of what that saintly Brazilian bishop [Ed.: the late Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife] used to say: “When I am concerned for the poor, they call me a saint; but when I keep asking why such great poverty exists, they call me a communist”.

Let no one willfully hinder the work that the Lord is accomplishing at this moment, and let us ask for the gift to serve in humility, so that he can increase and we decrease (cf. Jn 3:30).

I offer my best wishes to each and all of you, and to your families and friends. Thank you, thank you for your work, thank you so very much. And please, continue to pray for me, so that I can have the courage to remain in crisis. Happy Christmas! Thank you.

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

W
hether you’ve been waiting three decades or just three weeks for this, the “mountaintop” is at hand. 

From 4pm Rome (10am US ET), the livefeed of a Public Consistory like no other – from the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s, an unusually sparse rite for the elevation of 13 new Cardinals... and with it, a watershed for American Catholicism as Washington’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory receives his red hat: 


Due to the pandemic, the customary packed house of global pilgrims and full-on turnout of the 200-member College have been severely whittled to a crowd of roughly 100. And indeed, for the first time since 1998, a voting pick won’t be present for the conferral of the biretta and ring – both this intake’s Asian designates (Brunei’s Cornelius Sim and the Filipino José Advincula) have been forced to stay home in light of travel restrictions. Though the insignia will be sent to them and received in local ceremonies, they will have full membership in the Pope's "Senate" when their names are read out by the Pope alongside the others, thus "publishing" the list of his choices.
Among other concessions in the name of safety, the traditional evening "courtesy visits" to the incoming class will not take place, nor will the sign of peace among the cardinals after the new picks are invested. However, the standard close of the event – the Pope's concelebrated Mass with the new cardinals – will be held Sunday morning.
*  *  *
SVILUPPO: Having chosen Jesus' warning against ambition in St Mark's Gospel and its exhortation to be "servant of all," as the reading for today's rites, in his homily, Francis urged the new intake to avoid any sense of "a worldly spirit" and – citing the title that comes with the rank – the temptation to become "secular eminences": 

The road. The road is the setting of the scene just described by the Evangelist Mark (10:32-45). It is always the setting, too, for the Church’s journey: the road of life and history, which is salvation history insofar as it is travelled with Christ and leads to his paschal mystery. Jerusalem always lies ahead of us. The cross and the resurrection are part of our history; they are our “today” but also and always the goal of our journey.

This Gospel passage has often accompanied consistories for the creation of new Cardinals. It is not merely a “backdrop” but also a “road sign” for us who today are journeying together with Jesus. For he is our strength, who gives meaning to our lives and our ministry.

Consequently, dear brothers, we need carefully to consider the words we have just heard.

Mark emphasizes that, on the road, the disciples were “amazed” and “afraid” (v. 32). Why? Because they knew what lay ahead of them in Jerusalem. More than once, Jesus had already spoken to them openly about it. The Lord knew what his followers were experiencing, nor was he indifferent to it. Jesus never abandons his friends; he never neglects them. Even when it seems that he is going his own way, he is always doing so for our sake. All that he does, he does for us and for our salvation. In the specific case of the Twelve, he did this to prepare them for the trials to come, so that they could be with him, now and especially later, when he would no longer be in their midst. So that that they could always be with him, on his road.

Knowing that the hearts of his disciples were troubled, Jesus “once more” called the Twelve and told them “what was to happen to him” (v. 32). We have just heard it ourselves: the third announcement of his passion, death and resurrection. This is the road taken by the Son of God. The road taken by the Servant of the Lord. Jesus identifies himself with this road, so much so that he himself is the road. “I am the way” (Jn 14:6), he says. This way, and none other.

At this point, a sudden shift takes place, which enables Jesus to reveal to James and John – but really to all the Apostles – the fate in store for them. Let us imagine the scene: after once again explaining what will happen to him in Jerusalem, Jesus looks the Twelve squarely in the eye, as if to say: “Is this clear?” Then he resumes his journey, walking ahead of the group. Two of his disciples break away from the others: James and John. They approach Jesus and tell him what they want: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (v. 37). They want to take a different road. Not Jesus’ road, but a different one. The road of those who, perhaps even without realizing it, “use” the Lord for their own advancement. Those who – as Saint Paul says – look to their own interests and not those of Christ (cf. Phil 2:21). Saint Augustine speaks of this in his magnificent sermon on shepherds (No. 46). A sermon we always benefit from rereading in the Office of Readings.

Jesus listens to James and John. He does not get upset or angry. His patience is indeed infinite. He tells them: “You do not know what you are asking” (v. 38). In a way, he excuses them, while at the same time reproaching them: “You do not realize that you have gone off the road”. Immediately after this, the other ten apostles will show by their indignant reaction to the sons of Zebedee how much all of them were tempted to go off the road.

Dear brothers, all of us love Jesus, all of us want to follow him, yet we must always be careful to remain on the road. For our bodies can be with him, but our hearts can wander far afield and so lead us off the road. The scarlet of a Cardinal’s robes, which is the colour of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the colour of a secular “eminence”.

In this passage of the Gospel, we are always struck by the sharp contrast between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is aware of this; he knows it and he accepts it. Yet the contrast is still there: Jesus is on the road, while they are off the road. Two roads that cannot meet. Only the Lord, through his cross and resurrection, can save his straying friends who risk getting lost. It is for them, as well as for all the others, that Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem. For them, and for everyone, will he let his body be broken and his blood shed. For them, and for all, will he rise from the dead, and forgive and transform them by the gift of the Spirit. He will at last put them back on his road. 

Saint Mark – like Matthew and Luke – included this story in his Gospel because it contains a saving truth necessary for the Church in every age. Even though the Twelve come off badly, this text entered the canon of Scripture because it reveals the truth about Jesus and about us. For us too, in our day, it is a message of salvation. We too, Pope and Cardinals, must always see ourselves reflected in this word of truth. It is a sharpened sword; it cuts, it proves painful, but it also heals, liberates and converts us. For conversion means precisely this: that we pass from being off the road to journeying on God’s road.

May the Holy Spirit give us this grace, today and forever. 
–30–

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Fearing "Attack" On "Fundamental Values," The Bishops Warn Biden's White House

As the US bishops face a moment unseen in most of their lifetimes – the nation's election of a Catholic to the Presidency – the issue of Joe Biden's faith emerged by surprise at today's public close of the USCCB plenary, as the bench's leadership suddenly moved to draw a line in the sand with the incoming Democratic administration over its support of legal abortion.

Five days since the President-elect received a congratulatory phone call from the Pope – during which the two discussed the common causes of "caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees" – while Archbishop José Gomez made a passing nod of hope that Biden's "faith commitments will move him to support some good policies," the conference president quickly pivoted to underscore that the new White House "will support policies that attack some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics... [which] undermine our 'preeminent priority' of the elimination of abortion."

In an unannounced statement that revealed a new working group led by the USCCB vice-president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, rounded out by several key committee chairs, Gomez said that "when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support" abortion and a concept of religious freedom that allows enforcement of protections for civil rights, "there are additional problems. 

"Among other things, [the scenario] creates confusion with the faithful about what the church actually teaches on these questions."

Much as the election of a Catholic adds a deeply potent aspect to the calculus – and with it, the cited fears of a competing influence over the 70 million members of the nation's largest religious body – there is precedent for an intervention of this kind, but only with a prior Democratic administration. 

At its November plenary following Barack Obama's 2008 election – which, with Biden as his Vice-President, likewise inflamed a sizable bloc of the bishops – the conference approved a statement written by its then-president, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George OMI, warning that the new administration would attempt to codify the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade into US law; a move that, some predicted, would result in the closing of Catholic hospitals forced to comply with a legislated abortion mandate.

At the time, the bishops said they were "single-minded" on the issue "because they are, first of all, single-hearted."

For context, then-candidate Obama signaled that he would sign a proposed Freedom of Choice Act in a speech to Planned Parenthood during the 2008 primary season, but such a bill was never introduced in Congress once he took office. At the time, Democrats notably enjoyed majorities in both houses and a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate.

By contrast, the full bench's reaction upon President Trump's 2016 win was palpably more muted. Originated as a statement of the Committee on Migration (as opposed to the conference president) and only subsequently adopted by the entire body, the message focused less on Trump than as a gesture of solidarity with migrants given the former's incendiary rhetoric and proposals on immigration – a platform which, of course, had already scored an explicit condemnation from the Pope during the campaign itself. 

On the whole, today's statement signals that, while several leading moderate and progressive prelates indicated tacit support for Biden during the campaign despite Trump's anti-abortion stance, the conference as an institution is preparing to take a more aggressive line toward the incoming administration. 

This dynamic reportedly stretched into the closed-door executive session that closed Tuesday's business. According to Whispers ops, a steady chorus of conservative prelates rose in the private talks to urge a unified opposition to a Biden White House, lest any cooperation with it be perceived as undermining the church's pro-life witness on abortion. 

In practical terms, however, the first test of the coming church-state dynamic might be a matter where the prelates have little choice but to play ball. With plans for a further round of COVID-related economic stimulus effectively dead on arrival in the waning days of the Trump Administration – despite the President-elect urging a stopgap agreement as the pandemic's biggest wave causes further havoc for workers and businesses – after the springtime CARES Act and its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) served as a mammoth lifeline which allowed a broad range of Catholic entities to survive without mass layoffs or furloughs, the bishops have voiced concerted support for a new round of stimulus, without which no shortage of dioceses, parishes and schools would be forced into insolvency, or significant downsizing at best. 

Along those lines, as the first round of PPP funding expired without being renewed, only in recent weeks have several dozen local churches needed to make their most drastic cuts of ministries and staff over the course of the pandemic – a reality which threatens to become ever more widespread as the status quo persists.

Below, the fulltext of Gomez's statement, the push for which reportedly unfolded over the last 48 hours:

Brothers, the Chairmen of several Committees have come to me recently to express a particular concern in the wake of the election. I had the opportunity to consult with the Executive Committee about this concern, and I found unanimous support for what I am about to present. 

We are facing a unique moment in the history of the Church in this country. For only the second time, we are anticipating a transition to a President who professes the Catholic faith. This presents certain opportunities, but also certain challenges. 

The President-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies. This includes policies in favor of immigration reform, refugees, and the poor; and against racism, the death penalty, and climate change. 

But he has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that attack some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include the repeal of the Hyde amendment and the preservation of Roe v. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our “preeminent priority” of the elimination of abortion. These policies also include restoration of the HHS mandate, the passage of the Equality Act, and the unequal treatment of Catholic schools. 

These policies pose a serious threat to the common good whenever any politician supports them. We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so. But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion with the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions. 

This is a difficult and complex situation. In order to help us navigate it, I have decided to appoint a Working Group, Chaired by Archbishop Vigneron, and consisting of the Chairmen of the Committees responsible for the policy areas at stake, as well as Doctrine and Communications. I will provide more information about this initiative shortly after the conclusion of our meeting. 

But for now, I will note that this follows the precedent of four years ago. Cardinal DiNardo, then-President of the Conference, similarly faced a transition to a new Administration threatening grave and imminent harm on critical issues. 

Then as now, Committees already existed to address those issues, and the goal was to emphasize our priorities and enhance collaboration. Thank you, brothers, for raising this concerns, and please stay tuned as this develops further.

–30–

On Day Two, The "Viruses" Take Center Stage

Set to begin at 1pm Eastern, this final day of a virtual – and heavily curtailed – USCCB Plenary will be underpinned by what've arguably been the two key threads of American life in 2020: the bench's free-form discussions on COVID-19's impact on the nation's largest religious body, and the shape of the church's witness against racism.

To be sure, these aren't debates leading up to a vote, simply pastoral talks to compare notes on best practices and possible areas of improvement. In that light, these conversations tend to be even more revealing of the mind of the body than exchanges over specific policy questions.

Yet again, here's the livefeed....

–30–

Monday, November 16, 2020

Amid COVID and Ted, The Bench "ZOOMs" Forward

And now, for something completely different – a hundred forty years since the collegial governance of American Catholicism began with a November meeting of its archbishops, a full century since the entire bench convened as the global church's first episcopal conference, the leadership of the nation's religious body has never experienced a moment like this... quite possibly in more ways than one.

Due to COVID-19, the annual five-ring circus in Baltimore has fallen by the wayside, with the 250 voting members and 50-odd retirees gathering from home via Zoom – a platform with which the prelates have become all too familiar since the pandemic's initial lockdowns began in March.  On the bright side, however, as a good few bishops have long griped about the outlays of money and logistics that go into in-person meetings, their thesis that the bench can sufficiently handle its business with an online plenary can finally be put to the test.

Of course, the setting of the two-day talks isn't the only exceptional matter at hand. The timing of last week's release of the Vatican's McCarrick Report was dictated by this meeting – largely as its continued absence would've made for a fiasco, even among the broad middle of the conference given the two-year delay. Accordingly, today's planned 1pm start has been delayed by 90 minutes to allow for an initial discussion of the 450-page text and its findings in closed-door executive session. 

Beginning with the customary twin addresses by the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and the first speech by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as the conference president, the virtual public "Floor" – which will likewise include open-mic time on McCarrick – opens at 2.30pm Eastern (11.30 Pacific/1830 Rome).

Livefeed below... and as ever, more to come.

–30–

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

In Vatican Report, The Many Faces of Ted

And so, almost two years since the former cardinal-archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick became the highest-ranking cleric ever to be dismissed from orders amid serial credible reports of sexual abuse, the Holy See's report has finally arrived – the 449-page whopper was released this morning, underpinned by testimonies from 17 victims of the 90 year-old ex-prelate.

As no advance copies were circulated ahead of the 2pm Rome (8am ET) publish time – not even to practically any senior figures in either Rome or the US – the findings of the intense, exhaustive probe are just being absorbed across the board. Still, as for the major element in McCarrick's five-decade ascent, to repeat, if you're surprised, start paying attention.

Though it's not exactly the internet's strong-suit, with a product as sprawling as this, it's best to read it first and only react once one has... and as with any major Vatican document, but even more here, don't skip the footnotes.

Processing this will take a while. But for something of this gravity and scope, it deserves nothing less. Ergo, more in due course.

–30–